Seminar: "Making Meaning of Constitution Making: Participation and Process – the Sri Lankan Experiment"

24 April 2018

In this seminar, Ms Dinesha Samararatne, a Kathleen Fitzpatrick Visiting Fellow at Melbourne Law School, revisits the idea of public participation and consultation in constitution-making using the ongoing constitutional reform process in Sri Lanka as a case study.

Public participation in constitution making has been widely endorsed as a method of ensuring legitimacy among other things of a constitution. The intrinsic and consequential value of public consultation have been used to promote different models of public participation and consultation in contemporary constitution making exercises across the globe. However, in the context of states emerging from armed conflict and looking to resolve conflict through constitutional reform, public consultations and/or participation in constitution making can be a double-edged sword.

Ms Samararatne draws attention to some of the ways in which public consultation and participation can lead to negative outcomes. One is that it could re-produce the inequalities and deep divisions in society that had contributed to the conflict and its escalation into armed conflict. It could further polarize already polarized communities as it often compels community leaders/representatives to take up specific positions regarding constitution reform. In a post-war context, public consultation may not gain much traction due to the fatigue that civil society experiences due to participation in multiple consultation processes. The Sri Lankan experience thus far suggests that context specific and dynamic processes need to be set in motion for better outcomes through public consultation in constitution making.

Ms Dinesha Samararatne is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Public & International Law at the Faculty of Law of the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka where she teaches Administrative Law, Constitutional Law and Human Rights Law. She is a Kathleen Fitzpatrick Visiting Fellow at the Centre on Comparative Constitutional Law, April–May 2018. Her recent research work has been in relation to judicial enforcement of economic and social rights, judicial interpretation of fundamental rights, war affected women with disability, the study of law from the perspectives of cultural studies and access to justice.